Dawn Arnold is an actress, director, and teaching artist. She is the founder and Artistic Director
of The Moving Dock Theatre Company and Chekhov Studio Chicago. With The Moving Dock she has directed/created: Unsung Stars, Celestial Mechanics- or the Questionable Attraction of Entities, Savage/Love, and The Anton Chekhov Book Club. She has co-directed/adapted: Galway Bay, Einstein’s Dreams, Ocean Sea, The Quiltmaker’s Gift, and Shakespeare's Notebook. As an actress, she has performed with The Moving Dock in The Anton Chekhov Book Club, Galway Bay, Undercurrents, Ocean Sea, and Eleemosynary, with Alchymia Theatre in Flood, and numerous other roles including Ranyevskaya in Cherry Orchard, Hesione in Heartbreak House, Mae in Mud, and Margaret in Richard the Third. She created and performed the Spirit of the Dance for Chicago's Boitsov Ballet and her solo show, The Lydia Etudes - About Loving Anton Chekhov.
As a movement director and rehearsal coach, she has worked with Vitalist Theatre, Porchlight Music Theatre, House Theatre, and Janus Theatre. She has coached actors working for Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Lookingglass Theatre, Goodman Theatre, and Court Theatre, among others, and opera singers at Lyric Opera Chicago.
Dawn is a certified teacher of the Chekhov Technique, trained by the Michael Chekhov Association (MICHA). She appears in the documentary "Master Classes in the Michael Chekhov Technique," produced by the Michael Chekhov Association. She has been on the faculty of Roosevelt University’s Theatre Conservatory, Music Institute of Chicago, Aurora University, North Park College, and Northern Illinois University. She is currently on the Faculty of the Michael Chekhov Association and the Michael Chekhov Acting Studio New York City, Chekhov Studio Chicago, and Lyric Opera of Chicago Ryan Center. She is a guest artist around the country in workshops and residencies for colleges, high schools, and theatre companies.
My story is intertwined with my theatre company and studio. Each page of my company’s website is an expression of my past and current creative life - the shows created, all my teaching in the studio, the beautiful artists in our ensemble past and present, along with some of my thoughts.
I live in Chicago, close to my creative places - the space for my studio, Chekhov Studio
Chicago, on the near north side, and at Lyric Opera downtown. I travel as a visiting artist. I love
to just be somewhere else for a while.
Where were you born?
I was born in Chicago. My first home was next to Lake Michigan and I have an affinity for this body of water. I moved here again after grad school and stayed. I enjoy visiting other cities and countries in my work, but am always drawn home to Chicago, and am still living near my lake. I grew up in a Chicago suburb - Downers Grove, where my artistic interests were encouraged. My Dad fostered in me a love of classical music. I studied violin and had no other thought during my adolescence than that I would be a violinist. I adored traveling by train each Saturday morning to play in the Chicago Youth Symphony and my family made it possible for me to go to Interlochen Arts Camp in the summers, which was heaven, as far as I was concerned - nature and art!
I majored in music in undergrad at Butler University. It was there that I encountered my violin teacher, Eddy Brown, a spirit/art guide who did much more than oversee my violin studies. He lifted up the study of art in me and gave me the sense of high reach that has been the theme of my artistic life. His example awakened the teaching artist in me. Over the years, I have had many wonderful art teachers, especially all my dear Chekhov teachers, who continue to inspire me in this journey.
The best thing about being an artist is…
The feeling of expanded being, of ability found, of discovering something about oneself that is true that you didn’t know before- or that you did know, but hadn’t yet realized; to go beyond your boundaries and rise above a lower sense of life to embrace that something more that we have
What fuels your desire to create?
When my artistic interests evolved from violin to acting to directing/creating, I was moving from an interpretive artist to a creative artist, seeking something that felt lacking in my performing life. As a creative, I want to understand something under the surface before giving it form. As a performer, I want to experience an inner truth with an outer transformation. Basically, I am always seeking a spiritual idea, something graspable, but not without looking for it-something deep, interior, true. Then, I want to be the expression of that idea.
How did the "discovery" of Chekhov Technique transform your practice?
When I met the Chekhov Technique, I was trying my wings as a creative director, feeling a desire to make theatre pieces in a way that got to the essence. I had to circumnavigate typical rehearsal procedures in order to prevent falling into hackneyed theatre habits. I knew movement was the key, but was groping in the dark. My first workshop at MICHA (Michael Chekhov Association) stunned me because I realized I didn’t have to invent the wheel. Chekhov had already come up with the process I was seeking. This gave my practice knowledge, goals, a definite shape without hindering in any way my creative freedom. I love the feeling that I am working with a process that lets me play with unlimited potential.
The biggest obstacle in working with self is?
Old habits of self-knowing. I think that is why I want a totally free process, so that the old stuff can’t just kick in. All my life, my artistic desire has been met with negation in some form. I have felt that I had only a tenuous hold on having art and being an artist, as though I always had to justify the desire or earn it. There was always the risk of having it taken away from me. This is not an irrational fear, just a very human fear. I am learning to overcome it.
What advice would you give self at the very beginning of your training and professional career?
Don’t compare yourself with anyone. It’s true we learn from others, but when the comparisons
bring self-condemnation, it’s time to trust yourself more, listen to who you are.
Are there any rituals you created to help you "face avoidance" that plagues any artist occasionally?
Sometimes, that empty space is such a blank. So, I move. I love moving to music. But also now, I
know to establish why I am making art or teaching art. It’s to help all of us find a better sense of
who we are really. This desire, ‘comes from above, not from beneath’ and when I see that, I am
so grateful for the desire, for the means that have come to me in my search, for the opportunity
to do this amazing thing. That gratitude leads me to next steps.
Would you describe what works for you?
What works for me is exploration. I hate having to ‘come up with’ answers before I have had
time to explore and arrive at the ideas that I know will come in the state of active listening.
End-gaining frustrates me and I am entirely savvy to the fact that this is how the world works,
but it’s not useful to me. I need a feeling of space - mental space, time space, even physical
space - so I can intuit my way.
Talk about a piece of work that you experienced recently that moved you and how it found its place in your your work?
What came to mind when I read this question was a novel I read recently - Bel Canto by Anne
Patchett. It speaks to the power of art to carry us through disturbing times. Aside from that noble
theme, I was swept up in her storytelling and nuanced characterization. I was transported in a
way I haven’t been in my reading lately. I know it set a new bar for me in the creation of
character and in storytelling.
What other art form do you connect to? How does this craft/discipline help you in your work?
I connect most strongly to music in my acting and directing. I am always working with some soundtrack, even if it’s only in my head. When I direct, I micro-manage the sound design because it is linked to the gestation of the piece in me. It’s so much in my system that I don’t see it as a separate discipline. Music is my creative partner.
Describe your ritual or productive day at work?
There is the work I do myself and there is the work with the company. In both, I hope for that
sense of luxurious space. If a day is very busy, I will need to make the space. I have to start
slow, because that’s my tempo. I have to meet myself. Quiet listening and some easy movement leads me in. I might have set some goals, but I often do not. Afterwards, I will assess what was accomplished. I lose track of time when I am working. This is where discoveries come to me.
When I am directing others, I follow the same pattern, in a way, since my directing is an outcome
of my acting sensibilities. I have prepared goals, but won’t let them overtake the freedom of
exploration that I trust to deliver. I know that if I set up the actors well, wonderful things will follow and I have seen this happen so often that I focus on guiding them and then watch. The improvisations will inform me and set up the next exploration in my mind. It is a constant
working off intuitively with the actors - and with myself - until it takes shape. This is the early stage of the process.
I use Chekhov’s ideas as guideposts. His four stages of the creative process are great to keep things on track and his tools for the actor used in rehearsal give us so much to do. As we move into the next stages where we gradually form the show and performance approaches, the necessities of production put before me very distinct goals, but the way is still listen, listen, ask questions, listen, listen.
How do you reward self for a job well done?
Often chocolate is involved!
In 2016, SUPER SPACE is serving as a vehicle to facilitate Created to Create Project.
CREATED TO CREATE
INTRODUCING ONE ARTIST PER WEEK, FOR 52 WEEKS IN 2016.
Beginning, January, 1st, 2016
ACTORS, ARTISTS, THEATRE MAKERS, FILM MAKERS, DESIGNERS, TEACHING ARTISTS, STUDENTS all chosen because they spend a part each day creating. Artists will be chosen in no particular order.
Introduce artists from different parts of the world. People who use different mediums and whose practice is at a different skill level. A thing they all have in common is unique sense of style and self-expression.